To say some seniors have tough choices when it comes to finding housing might be an understatement.
For some, the situation at present amounts to no choice. One Comox Valley woman in her 80s is now facing life without a home, perhaps living in her car.
“I think (being) homeless is the biggest disgrace we have as human beings,” she told the Record.
She asked not to be identified for the story but feels this is a pressing matter not only for her but for many other elderly people. In her current situation, she now must leave her current rental in October. She had a couple of months’ notice, but even compared with a couple of years ago when she moved in, there is nothing she can find.
“I knew things were going to come to an end,” she said. “There’s nothing out there.”
The pandemic has only made the situation worse over the last year and a half. She’s driven around the region to look for places that have posted rentals, but she has found nothing.
With accommodations eating up most of people’s assisted living income, often seniors are faced with a dilemma on how to use the remaining funds.
“For some seniors, it’s either prescriptions or food,” she said.
One solution for the short term she would like to see is to have more people open their homes. This might seem like a difficult time to do so, she says, but the need is there more than ever. At the same time, in the age of Airbnb, it could provide more income and companionship for the homeowners.
“This is a call to the community to open their hearts and doors,” she said.
She knows she is not alone. For instance, she cites one acquaintance who is on a waiting list for subsidized housing for seniors but in the meantime is paying for a low-rent apartment in Courtenay in a building with stained carpets, bugs and the stench of cigarette smoke. The friend was not comfortable speaking for the story.
Royston Marples is another older person who was facing uncertainty when it came to finding a place to live with his girlfriend Darlene Fisher. They had to leave a fifth-wheeler they were renting, as the owner needed space for a family member, but that left the pair without a place at the beginning of September. There were able to find emergency space for themselves and their dog, while Fisher has sent another dog to live with her aunt.
“We are living in the Salvation Army shelter,” Marples said.
Around the middle of September, they thought they had found a place, but it did not materialize. One of the problems, Marples said, is that his pension income was cut due to CERB payments. On top of this, he has had throat cancer and has already outlived what his doctors expected.
The couple could be eligible for assistance from the province, but as they have heard, this is only once they find a place.
“There’s just so little out there, and so many looking,” he said, adding, “We’ll make it somehow.”
There are plans to add subsidized units for seniors in the community through projects such as the old D’Esterre Gardens site in Comox, for which BC Housing announced funding in the spring.
There is wide demand though in the Comox Valley and throughout the province. The Office of the Seniors Advocate office has produced reports looking at issues such as housing access for seniors, including the growth of demand for subsidized units.
In the 2020 edition of Monitoring Seniors Services, it shows that when it comes to subsidized housing units for seniors, the number of units in B.C. went up to 31,300 after four years of decreases. However, the demand is going up too, with the number of applicants increasing year over year between 2015/16 and 2019/20. Last year saw an 11 per cent jump, while the latest median wait time for applicants was 1.7 years — an increase of 13 per cent over the previous year.
While the living situation is stable for many seniors, it is not for all, as Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie wrote in the introduction to the latest report: “Most seniors continue to live in their own homes and, while the property tax deferral program continues to grow in popularity, the affordability for senior renters continues to be a challenge. Most seniors express a strong desire to live in their own homes as they age, and it is key that they have the financial supports necessary to live with dignity.”